Martin C. Barry
A long and traumatic chapter in the City of Laval’s history came to a dramatic conclusion last Thursday when Gilles Vaillancourt, the disgraced former mayor of Laval, pleaded guilty to charges of corruption and agreed to give up his million dollar condo on Île Paton and to pay the city up to $9 million.
Although he pleaded not guilty three years ago when charges of breach of trust, fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud were initially filed against Vaillancourt, on Thursday he entered a guilty plea at Laval’s Palais de Justice and was remanded in custody before sentencing Dec. 15 to what is expected to be a term of six years imprisonment.
“I sincerely regret the errors I committed,” Vaillancourt is reported to have said during the hearing. “I feel a pain that I will have for the rest of my life. I did a lot of things for Laval. But I made mistakes that are unacceptable.”
According to the prosecutor overseeing Vaillancourt’s case, ownership of the former mayor’s condominium estimated to be worth more than $1 million is being transferred to the office of the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions.
Swiss bank account seized
As part of an agreement, proceeds from a bank account Vaillancourt had set up in Switzerland containing more than $8 million are also being transferred to the DPCP, which has a mandate to deal with the proceeds of criminal activities. At Laval city hall last Thursday morning, Mayor Marc Demers held a press conference during which he reacted to the turn of events.
“Since the beginning of our mandate, we were committed to recover Laval citizens’ money,” he said, while adding that many people were convinced Vaillancourt would get off without punishment. “Since last April, we have been negotiating with his lawyers,” said Demers, before providing details of the settlement.
Among other thing, Vaillancourt voluntarily agreed to give up his $30,000 annual pension paid by the city. Total value of the pension is estimated at $500,000. As well, Vaillancourt transferred ownership of his condo to the city, although it is being held for the time being by the DPCP.
We got the maximum: Demers
While Demers said the city has effectively recovered $7.5 million from the former mayor, he later referred to an amount as high as $9 million. “I am convinced that we were able to recover the maximum amounts possible from Mr. Vaillancourt,” Demers said.
“Damages he caused to the citizens were undoubtedly greater but we had to take his assets into account and I am positive that we got the maximum.” Demers said “the amounts recovered today on behalf of Laval citizens prove us right for having undertaken all necessary actions to seek redress.”
‘Short changed,’ says opposition
The official opposition at Laval city hall also reacted. “The citizens of Laval are short changed in this agreement,” Action Laval leader Jean-Claude Gobé said in a statement. “We remove all other lawsuits including the most severe – charges of gangsterism with a trial. (If) we would have all the proofs, the sentence would be exemplary. There was organized crime and gangsterism, and just one or two years of jail time is not enough, it’s unacceptable.
“I am appalled,” Gobé continued. “Nine million dollars and a six-year jail sentence may seem huge. However, let’s not forget the magnitude of the fraud itself on the taxpayers over a period of almost 25 years, and that Gilles Vaillancourt will be able to get out of jail in one-sixth of the sentence – in other words, a year later. Given the seriousness of the offence and that he can begin to come out of jail after just one year is totally unacceptable.”
Gobé not happy with outcome
Furthermore, the leader of the opposition said the $8.5 million, including the $1 million condominium returned to the city “represents a small fraction of the real stolen amount hidden all over in tax havens.” He said a large part of that money will only end up being paid in taxes to the federal and provincial governments.
“By dropping all other lawsuits, absolving Gilles Vaillancourt of all the rest, the citizens of Laval will never see the color of their money,” said Gobé. “Only an exemplary sentence should be imposed to allow for a clean break from the past, which is not the case with this agreement.” Gilles Vaillancourt “will be walking down the streets of Laval in two years maximum,” Gobé predicted. “The message being sent to society is that we can rob the citizens, disregard the laws and get away with it.”